The next day we were booked into the honeymoon tent at Kalahari Tented Camp (as a treat for our 10th wedding anniversary) so we packed the car at first light, grabbed our coffee and rusks and headed south to explore the surrounding area.
I’d been informed by the forumites that there was an old sociable weavers nest by the 14th borehole in which barn owls nested. I was unbelievably inpatient to get there and, was it not for my husband driving, I’d have headed straight there and ‘camped’ out all day.
As it was we had a very enjoyable morning meandering around the loops past the nearby waterholes, enjoying lots of close encounters with fearless springbok, eagles and gemsbok. We also tried a bit of tracking – scouring the sandy roads for cat prints – and struck lucky with a set of what we believed to be fresh leopard prints and scat on the approach to the 13th borehole. We waited around for an hour or two in the vicinity to see if there was any evidence that the leopard was still around. She wasn’t – at least not in a location we could see her.
We pressed onwards towards the 14th borehole with high hopes for our very first barn owl sighting…
The nest is actually on the left of the main road (as you are heading north to Mata Mata) at the southern junction to the loop road on which the 14th borehole is located. It’s very large and easy to spot once you know where to look but might be difficult to spot in the summer due to the overhanging branches. We pulled up, switched off the car engine and waited in silence, cameras and binoculars at the ready. The entrance to the nest was covered in fresh droppings so we knew someone was home or had visited recently. For now it would be a waiting game.
And wait we did…for hours. But to no avail. There was no sign of any activity or resident. Time pressed on and we reluctantly decided to head back north for lunch.
A few km’s on and we heard the most ear piercing and terrified scream – of which animal we had no idea. We slammed the brakes on and grabbed our binoculars – Ali took to the right hand side of the car – me the left. It was then we noticed three jackals on the hillside, but they could not account for the terrifying noise that ensued. We scanned the horizon looking for something else – something else was happening and we’d not yet pieced together the jigsaw.
Suddenly it all fell into place – on the hillside two adult bat eared foxes paced nervously, stopping to fix their gaze into the bushes behind the jackals every 30 seconds or so. The bushes were the source of the screams – a juvenile bat eared fox had been captured by the jackals and was being eaten alive. My eyes filled with tears as we watched – not because of the horrid scene unfolding before us (this is, after all, the circle of life), but because of the constant screaming of the baby fox and the relentlessness of its parents to give up the flight to retrieve it. The fox was brave to the very end and fought off the jackal family as long as its strength would allow it. As quickly as it had started it ended, and the ear piercing silence fell upon the bush once more – this is when we and the bat eared fox parents knew the end had come. The cub was dead and its suffering ended. As the parents turned to slowly walk away we also started our engine and left the cub in peace.
This whole episode threw me into turmoil – I thought jackals were scavengers. It never dawned on me that they are also fearless hunters. To think, I had entertained one around our braai in Nossob just nights before, as if it was a house dog. This is why I love Africa so much – it challenges your preconceptions and constantly forces you to reconsider your expectations about the natural world.
With hearts heavy and adrenaline pumping we set off back to camp to check in once more. However, a few kms on we spotted a few cars gathered by the roadside. Upon arrival they pointed out to us a cheetah feasting on a carcass in the distance. They’d not witnessed the kill – but judging by the state of the carcass it was more than a few hours old. We stayed for a while but decided to press on…familiar with cheetah’s eating habits we knew she wouldn’t be going anywhere soon given how much meat was on the carcass and the heat of the afternoon sun. We therefore took a note of her location on our map and set the car’s trip-o-meter, vowing to return to her as late as possible in the afternoon when she might become active once more.
Return we did – about 4pm that afternoon. She was still there, sleeping by the, now stripped, carcass. Being only car present, we turned off our engine and waited. 40 minutes later we witnessed her sleepy eyes open and we sprung into action…cameras set up we waited and waited in the hope that she might walk towards us.
Someone up there was looking down on us with good fortune that day because she stretched and turned straight towards us. After a few tense minutes (will she / won’t she?!) she started to walk across the riverbed straight towards us. By now the golden hour was upon us and the landscape was cast in the most incredible gold hue. I heard myself whispering out-loud, willing the cheetah to step out of the occasional shadows into the incredible late afternoon light. Time and time again she obeyed. It was an incredible sighting – the light danced off the fine fur around her head and body, creating an almost angelic glow around her. She paused every now and again, but her progress towards us was otherwise steady and constant. Undeterred by our presence (and because no other cars arrived in the interim) she did not think twice about walking right up to, and by our car. You could see the dried blood around her face, contrasting against the glistening whilst teeth she bared every now and then. It was a rare and amazing encounter with a beautiful animal. One which I will remember for a lifetime.
That night sleep was impossible – the combination of the freezing cold and the adrenaline pumping from the day’s sightings meant we had a very broken sleep. However, a warm bath in the honeymoon tent (whilst wearing a wooly hat!) helped to calm me somewhat.
What a day!
More photos from our trip are available in the Taraji Blue Kalahari photo gallery.